Rediscover your Windows

There’s nothing like a brand new computer. It boots up in the blink of an eye and flies through tasks. It feels eager, sharp and poised. When your machine is in the first flushes of youth, it’s easy to love it and feel excited about using it.

Wind the clock forward and the relationship starts to sour.

rediscover windows

You probably turn your PC on and go and do something else, leaving it to wheeze and splutter into life. The spring in its step has been replaced by reluctance and sloth. A time will come when you dread sitting down in front of your PC.

The sad fact is this slide from potency to out-of-puff can happen in six or 12 months. Over that time all programs you install and the files – both good and bad – that you pick up while browsing the internet smother your PC’s performance.

In this feature we’re going to take a radically different approach to dealing with a moribund PC. We’re going to embark on a four-step plan. Follow the programme and we should be able to turn back the clock and rediscover your PC’s lost pep. More importantly, repeat one or two of our processes and you’ll preserve the performance we’ve rediscovered.

Assessment or diagnosis is the first step in our plan. We’ll try to work out why the PC is running so slowly. In stage two we’ll act on our findings in step one and strike at the heart of the problem. Step three can seem the most daunting and difficult of all. If step two has failed to make your PC run more quickly we’ll admit defeat. We’ll look at reformatting your hard disk and reinstalling Windows. In step four we’ll look at preserving the speed you’ve released.

Step 1: Diagnosis

If you learn to read the signs you can quickly work out what is ailing a slothful PC and begin curing its ills

More than one disk?
Some PCs have more than one hard disk. We’re interested in the drive that has the Windows logo next to it. It’s usually labelled Local Disk (C:). This is the drive that contains Windows and usually all of its most important components.

Unhappy hard disks
A full hard disk is an unhappy one and it makes Windows slow and sometimes unstable. Press the ‘Start’ button on your keyboard, click ‘Computer’ and you should see this window. The bar charts indicate how much space is free on a disk. If your bar is red you’re in trouble.

Too many programs
Press the [Windows] key, click ‘All Programs’ and find a list that makes it incredibly difficult to Find what you’re looking for. Ask yourself a simple question: do I need all of these applications? Too much software can slow your PC.

Learn to listen
Your PC will have an exhaust grille where a fan pushes out excess heat. The heat is generated by your processor. The harder the processor works, the more heat it makes and the louder the fan becomes. If the fan is on constantly and the PC is hot to the touch, it’s a sign that your CPU is struggling.

Get some figures
Press [Alt] + [Ctrl] + [Del], click ‘Task Manager’ then ’Performance’. You’Il see a Window. Task Manager has data about what’s going on under the hood and is invaluable in discovering where a problem lies.

What a mess!
Too many desktop icons makes it hard to find what you’re looking for and indicates a PC that’s in need of a good clean. As you remove unwanted programs the number of icons will drop.

Processor watching
This row gives details about your processor. Some processors have more than one core or engine. you may have two or four. Either way, spikes show work. If all the graph’s lines are at the top of the readout your processor is working too hard.

Take the average
This column shows the total processor usage. You’II see spikes touch towards 100 per cent but usage of these should always drop down again quickly. If yours is stuck up near 100 per cent all the time we’Il need to do rescue work.

Memory usage
The big readout is historical memory usage. This lets you see how the computer was behaving in the past. Again, you’ll see spikes when programs open and close. A healthy PC will show a relatively flat line towards the bottom of the readout, whereas a maxed readout is bad.

Right now
This column shows memory usage right now. Windows itself uses some memory and as you open programs and files you use up more. A high reading is bad and if it gets up to 100 per cent your PC will really start slowing and working its hard drive very hard.

Hard disk Thrashing
Look at your hard disk activity light. While Windows is loading it will stay on or blink very fast. If the light stays on and you can hear your hard disks making a constant fluttering sound long after Windows has booted, your PC could be running short of random access memory or RAM.

Step 2: Rejuvenate

With diagnosis ticked off our list, it’s time to set about curing your computer’s ills and making it feel young again

Our first job is to rid our PC of any programs we’re not using. Be brutal here. To begin your clean-up, press the [Windows] key on your keyboard, click ‘Control Panel’ followed by ‘Uninstall a program’, which is under the green Programs heading.

Your computer may have a think and then produce a list of applications that are installed. The key here is to be rigorous. If you haven’t used something for six months, there’s a good chance you don’t need it. You also need to be careful. Many programs are central to Windows working correctly. If you don’t know what a program is or does, leave it alone. You don’t want to break anything.

When you spot a redundant program, right-click on it followed by ‘Uninstall’. Most programs will plead for their lives by asking if you’re sure while some just admit defeat. The removal process may take a few minutes.

A deeper clean

With your unwanted programs removed it’s time to turn our attention to Windows’ deeper crevices. Press the ‘Start’ button click ‘Computer’ and right-click on (C :). Now select ‘Properties’ followed by ‘Disk Cleanup’ (under the pie chart). Again your PC will have a think and then produce a list of files it reckons can be safely removed. You should see a tick- list. Make sure all the boxes are ticked and then click ‘Next’. When prompted click ‘Delete Files’.

Windows Disk Cleanup only goes so far. It gets rid of the basics but programs such as CCleaner dig deeper into Windows. you can go for other clean-up programs. They’re optional and do come with the risk of deleting something important. Windows’ own system is generally perfectly safe.

Step by Step do the following:

Step 1: Begin the transformation

Windows looks very pretty but all these good looks come at a price – a reduction in performance. If your machine is struggling you can turn down Windows’ showiness and hopefully dial up its speed. Press the [Windows] key.

Step 2: New look

Now type Adjust the appearance’ and press [Enter] on the top option. In the following menu you can trade speed against good Iooks.The most brutal option is ‘Adjust for best performance’. This will make Windows 7 look like XP.

Step 3: More brain than brawn

Windows will now look rather dowdy. It will however feel noticeably faster. If you can’t live with such a bygone look try selecting ‘Let Windows choose’ from the previous menu. This strikes a balance between show and go.

No more indexing

Next, let’s turn off a real system hog – Windows Search Indexer. When you press or click the ‘Start’ button there’s a text box at the bottom of the list that appears. This search box lets you find things by typing their name. Few people use it. If you’re one of the few, leave it running. If you never knew it was there you can turn the feature off and recover a heap of speed.

In that box type turn Windows features on and off (auto fill should kick in). When the option appears at the top of the list press [Enter]. Scroll down until you see Windows Search, remove the tick next to it and click ‘Yes’. You may need to restart your PC now. Note that we’ll be using the search feature again so don’t disable it.

Reclaim what’s yours

Finally you should defrag your hard disk. Over time hard disks and their contents become jumbled. Defragging imposes order and order means more speed. Press the [Windows] key, click ‘Computer’, right-click on (C:). Click ‘Tools’ and ‘Defragment now’. Click ‘Analyze’ and, when it’s done, click ‘Defragment now’. This can be a slow but necessary process.

Decision time

If you’re feeling inquisitive you can go back to step one and use the same tools to see how much RAM and disk space you’ve freed up. You can also judge if your processor is happier. If you’re still not content with your PC’s performance, it might be time to reinstall Windows Turn over and let’s begin!

Step 3: Reinstall

If you’ve done your best but you’re still not happy with the results it’s time to think about reinstalling Windows on your PC

Thus far we’ve looked at ways in which you can rediscover lost performance. There are however, occasions when Windows is just too far-gone. Don’t take this step lightly. You’ll have to reinstall every one of your programs and a reinstall is a true last resort. If you find yourself in this situation there’s nothing for it – it’s time to reinstall Windows.

What, no discs?

The first step in your reinstallation project is to hunt down your original installation disc. This will contain your copy of Windows and also the all-important Product Key. The key is a 25-character alpha- numeric code with dashes between each block of five characters. Have a look around your PC case or the underside of your laptop. Some computer manufacturers put the code on a Microsoft sticker.

If you don’t remember receiving a disc with your PC don’t worry. Some PC makers put all the necessary Windows reinstallation files in what’s known as a rescue partition. This is a hidden section of the hard disk, which, when accessed, begins the reinstallation process. How you access it varies from PC maker to PC maker. Generally you need to turn the machine on and almost immediately press [Alt] + [F10] or possibly [Ctrl] + [F10]. The best way to find out for sure is to do a Google search for your PC make and model along with the words ‘rescue partition’.

Again the subtleties of how the process works varies but when you boot and press the right keys you should arrive at a menu. It will likely give you the option to completely restore the system – possibly it’ll describe this option as the factory default – but there may be other options as well. Either way you should select the complete restore option. When you’ve done that you can pretty much sit back and wait until your machine sorts itself out.

Step-by-step Reinstall Windows

Step 1: After booting

After your PC has booted you’ll be asked to set the language settings. Take care as there are many subtly different settings. When you’re done click *Next* and follow that with ‘InstalI’. You’ll then need to agree with the Windows user agreement.

Step 2: Reformat your hard disk

Next select ‘Custom (Advance)’, click ‘Drive Options (Advanced)’and then ‘Active Partition’ on Delete Disk 0. When done, click’Next’. When that’s been done, Windows should begin copying itself from the disc and onto your hard drive.

Step 3: A quick restart or two

If you’re working with Windows 7 the copying process should take under half an hour. Your PC will probably restart itself a couple of times too. At the end of the process you’Il be asked for your Product Key. Enter it when prompted.

Step 4: Preserve

Drivers are pieces of software that enable Windows to communicate with and control your PCs components Install the Latest drivers and you’lI find hidden speed

Congratulations! You’ve come a long way and worked hard. You’ve run diagnostics on your PC, tried to cure its problems and, finally, reinstalled Windows. You could be forgiven for thinking it’s time to relax but don’t put your feet up just yet. There’s one final stage in our PC power-up plan – preserving the speed you’ve found. If you’re not careful you’ll find yourself with a slothful machine again and all your hard work will be wasted. As you read on we’ll discover some simple yet clever ways to ensure your machine continues purring.

Driver updates

Immediately after reinstallation, you might feel somewhat disappointed, because Windows may feel rather slow and ponderous and that constant hard disk clicking sound we discussed earlier might still be present. Don’t worry. Straight after re-installation Windows sets about updating itself. Effectively your rescue partition or installation discs contain old versions of Windows. Since their creation, Microsoft will have released many updates and Service Packs for your OS. These all take time and computational effort to download and install. Vista is probably the worst offender here. We’ve seen PCs take days to fully update themselves.

Sadly there are no shortcuts. You just need to leave your PC connected to the internet and let it get on with updating itself. Eventually it will settle down and speed up.

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